Our 'Best of' List: What We Liked About 2014

What’s not to love about seeing Northwest Arkansas picked as one of the best places to live, best places to do business or best places to retire by one of the nation’s top magazines? Yet, we’ve never created our own list in quite that way.

We’re putting an end to that — today! — with our first What We Liked About 2014 in Northwest Arkansas, and we’re thinking there’s a pretty good opportunity for another one of these lists to show up about a year from now.

We didn’t attempt to make this list too long, or rank one of our favorites ahead of the others, but all of them were important to our region from a quality of life or business perspective.

Here it goes:

  • Better access. The cities of Fayetteville and Springdale opened the Fayetteville Flyover and the Don Tyson Parkway, and both of those projects make it easier for motorists to reach Interstate 49.
  • Walmart AMP. The opening of the amphitheater in Rogers gave Northwest Arkansas its best outdoor music venue, and it’s already bringing in top music talent.
  • Hillshire Farms added. Springdale's Tyson Foods merged with the Chicago-based company in August, and that means Tyson Foods will move up the Fortune 500 list when it’s published again. Ranked as the nation’s No. 93 company on the magazine’s prestigious annual list, Hillshire’s more than $4 billion in annual revenue should push Tyson Foods higher on Fortune's list.
  • College enrollment. The University of Arkansas in Fayetteville had an impressive 26,301 students in the fall 2014. It’s a record for the school that had about 18,000 students a decade ago.
  • State of the Art. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art drew national attention to the region with its “State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now.” The exhibit, which continues through Jan. 19, even earned a spot on the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley.
  • Walmart open call. Walmart in July hosted its first Made in USA “Open Call.” The more than 500 meetings that occurred that day allowed prospective suppliers to learn about doing business with Walmart.
  • Kayak park. Last summer’s opening of the Siloam Springs Kayak Park on the Illinois River created a $2 million facility unlike anything else in the state.
  • College ranking. John Brown University in Siloam Springs tied two other colleges to be ranked as the No. 1 South Region college by U.S. News and World Report.
  • Integration. The Cisneros Center of San Antonio selected Northwest Arkansas as a pilot community for its American Dream Initiative. The program seeks to improve access for new immigrants to resources and services they need.
  • Better highways. You didn't think we'd forget the good work of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, did you? The department in 2014 opened bids to build major sections of the U.S. 412 Bypass of Springdale and the Bella Vista Bypass, agreeing to spend more than $150 million on two key projects.